Film Review: Not Of This Earth (dir by Roger Corman)


Originally released in 1957, Roger Corman’s Not Of This Earth is about a man named Mr. Johnson (played, in a nicely creepy performance, by Paul Birch).

At first glance, Mr. Johnson may look like your typical dark-suited, 1950s businessman but, on closer examination, there’s definitely something off about him.  Why does he always wear those dark sunglasses?  Why is he so sensitive to loud noise?  Why does he move stiffly, as if he’s still getting used to his ody?  And when he speaks, why is his tone always so formal and correct?  Never trust anyone who doesn’t use a contraction or two.  Why is it that Mr. Johnson seems to spend all of his time in his mansion, only venturing outside so that he can visit the local blood banks?

Could it be that Mr. Johnson is …. not of this earth!?

Well, yes, of coursem he’s an alien.  I mean, it says so right in the title of the movie!  It turns out that Mr. Johnson comes from a planet called Davanna.  The inhabitants of Davanna are dying of a mysterious blood disease so he’s been sent to Earth so that he can run tests on human blood.  Needless to say, Mr. Johnson is under constant pressure from his bosses back home.  They expect Johnson to find a cure but there’s only one problem.  Human blood is sometimes hard to come by.

Oh sure.  Johnson can always go to the local doctor (William Roerick) and get a transfusion.  But, unfortunately, Johnson is often forced to deal with his need for blood by murdering anyone who happens to be near the house, whether it be a teenager or a vacuum cleaner salesman.  Like a vampire, Johnson drains them of their blood before retreating to the safety of his mansion.

Paul Birch gives a wonderfully odd performance in the role of Mr. Johnson, playing him in such a way that suggests that Mr. Johnson is still not quite comfortable with his human disguise.  When he starts speaking with his stilted and awkward syntax, he’s like a man who has just learned how to speak another language.  On the one hand, it’s tempting to feel sorry for Mr. Johnson because he’s desperately trying to save his people.  On the other hand, he does end up killing a lot of people.

Beverly Garland and Morgan Jones play Nadine and Harry, a nurse and a policeman who stumble across the truth of Mr. Johnson’s origins.  Beverly Garland was one of those confident, no-one-is-going-to-conquer-my-planet actresses who could elevate any film by her presence alone and, as this film shows, if you’re trying to stop the aliens from stealing all of Earth’s blood, Beverly Garland was someone who you would want on your side.

With the exception of a scene featuring Dick Miller as a slick salesman, director Roger Corman plays the material straight and the end result is a quickly paced and, at times, genuinely creepy little sci-fi/horror hybrid.  Corman makes good use of his low-budget and even the film’s cheap look ultimately works to its advantage.  The stark black-and-white cinematography perfectly captures the harshness of Mr. Johnson’s mission.  This an effective and enjoyable B-movie.

Finally, since this is a Roger Corman production, be sure to look for all of the usual suspects.  As mentioned above, Dick Miller plays a salesman.  (Before becoming an actor, Miller actually did work as a door-to-door salesman and he ad libbed the majority of his dialogue.)  Jonathan Haze appears as one of Mr. Johnson’s servants.  And, of course, the film was written by Corman’s longtime collaborator, Charles B. Griffith.  Three years after making Not Of This Earth, Corman, Haze, Miller, and Griffith would collaborate on the somewhat more light-hearted Little Shop of Horrors.

Halloween Havoc!: QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE (Allied Artists 1958)


cracked rear viewer

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QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE has quite an interesting pedigree. Screenwriter Charles Beaumont (THE TWILIGHT ZONE) adapted a story by Ben Hecht, of all people, then director Edward Bernds got his frequent Three Stooges/Bowery Boys collaborator Ellwood Ullman to punch things up a little. The resulting mishmash is a huge contender in the “so-bad-it’s-good” sweepstakes, a sci-fi schlockfest featuring goofy special effects, sexism, and Zsa Zsa Gabor!

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The movie’s right up there with PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE  in its cheesiness, except in glorious Technicolor. Set in a futuristic 1985, space Captain Neil Patterson (Eric Fleming, RAWHIDE’s trail boss) and his intrepid crew (Dave Willock, Patrick Waltz) are assigned to shuttle Professor Konrad (sci-fi stalwart Paul Birch) to Space Station A, where there’re “indications of some trouble up there”. Off they go into the wild blue yonder, where they witness the station being blown to smithereens by a mysterious ray (via cartoon animation)…

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Shattered Politics #18: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (dir by John Ford)


The_Man_Who_Shot_Liberty_Valance“When the legend become fact, print the legend.” — Maxwell Scott (Carleton Young) in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Though I understand and respect their importance in the history of both American and Italian cinema, I have never really been a huge fan of westerns.  Maybe its all the testosterone (“A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do…”) or maybe it’s all the dust but westerns have just never really been my thing.

However, I will always make an exception for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, which is not just a great western but a great film period.

But you already knew that.  It’s a little bit intimidating to review a film that everyone already knows is great.  I even opened this review with the exact same quote that everyone uses to open their reviews of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.  To a certain extent, I feel like I should have found a quote that everyone hasn’t already heard a thousand times but then again, it’s a great quote from a great film and sometimes, there’s nothing wrong with agreeing with the critical consensus.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance opens with a train stopping in the small western town of Shinbone.  The residents of the town — including newspaper editor Maxwell Scott (Carleton Young) — are shocked when Sen. Rance Stoddard (James Stewart) and his wife Hallie (Vera Miles) get off the train.  Sen. Stoddard is considered to be a front-runner to become the next Vice President of the United States.  Scott is even more shocked to discover why the Stoddards are in town.  They’ve come to Shinbone to attend the funeral of an obscure rancher named Tom Doniphon (played, in flashback, by John Wayne).

Sitting in the funeral home with Doniphon’s coffin (and having reprimanded the local mortician for attempting to steal Tom’s boots), Rance tells Scott why he’s come to pay respect to Tom Doniphon.  We see, in flashback, how Rance first came to Shinbone 25 years ago, an idealistic lawyer who — unlike most of the men in the west — refused to carry a gun.  We see how Rance was robbed and assaulted by local outlaw Liberty Valance (a wonderfully intimidating and bullying Lee Marvin), we discover how Rance first met Hallie while working as a dishwasher and how he eventually taught her how to read, and we also see how he first met Tom Doniphon, the only man in town strong enough to intimidate Liberty Valance.

At first, Rance and Doniphon had an uneasy friendship, epitomized by the condescending way Doniphon would call Rance “pilgrim.”  Doniphon was in love with Hallie and, when he attempted to teach Rance how to defend himself, he was largely did so for Hallie.  Rance, meanwhile, was determined to bring law and society to the west.

And, eventually, Rance did just that.  When Shinbone elected two delegates to the statehood convention in the territory’s capitol, Rance attempted to nominate Doniphon for the position but Doniphon refused it and nominated Rance instead, explaining that Rance understood “the law.”  When Liberty Valance attempted to claim the other delegate spot, Rance and Doniphon worked together to make sure that it instead went to newspaper editor Dutton Peabody (Edmond O’Brien).  And when Liberty Valance attempted to gun Rance down in the street, Rance shot him.

Or did he?

That’s the question that’s at the heart of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.  However, as a film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is far less interested in gunfights than it is in politics.  Perhaps the most important scene in the film is not when Rance and Liberty meet out on that dark street.  Instead, it’s the scene at the statehood convention where the reformers (represented by Rance) and the cattlemen (represented by John Carradine) battle over who will be the territory’s delegate to Washington.  Between John Carradine orating, the horses riding in and out of the hall, Edmond O’Brien drinking, James Stewart looking humble, and John Wayne glowering in the background, this is one of the best political scenes ever put on film.

When Rance first arrives in the west, there is no political system in place.  With the exception of the ineffectual town marshal (Andy Devine), there is no law.  The peace is kept by men like Tom Doniphon and, oddly enough, by Liberty Valance as well.  (Whether he realizes it or not, Shinbone’s fear of Liberty has caused the town to form into a community.)  What little official law there is doesn’t matter because the majority of the Shinbone’s citizens can’t read.

When Rance arrives, he brings both education and the law.  He makes Shinbone into a town that no longer needs Liberty Valance but, at the same time, it no longer need Tom Doniphon either.  Hence, it’s Rance Stoddard who goes from dishwasher to U.S. Senator while Tom Doniphon dies forgotten.  Rance represents progress and unfortunately, progress often means losing the good along with the bad things of the past.

(It’s no coincidence that when Rance and Hallie return to Shinbone, the first person that they see is the former town marshal, who no longer wears a star and who, we’re told, hasn’t for years.  Time has passed by.)

It’s a bittersweet and beautiful film, one that features four great performances from Stewart, Wayne, Marvin, and Vera Miles.  Personally, I like to think that maybe Sen. Stoddard had a daughter who married a man named Smith and maybe they had a son named Jefferson who later made his way to the Senate as well.

It would be fitting.